Amsterdam is not all about the seedy red light district and day trips to see the tulips. It's also about clogs. [Couldn't resist.] But, cliches aside, the city really is a charming maze of canals, stylish boutiques, cafes, bars, museums and people of such friendliness that you might genuinely be startled if you've been living in London for a while. So this is how the other half lives. You can easily navigate around by foot, or join the slip stream of locals by hiring a bike for the weekend.
|Appeltaart at Winkel|
We absolutely loved our weekend in Amsterdam last year, but I just never got around to writing about it. So, briefly, here are some highlights.
- Hire bikes. We went to Yellow Bike near Central Station and whizzed around all over the place - so much fun, and there's no better city for cycling. Yellow Bike also offer 3 hour city bike tours which I've heard are good.
- Vyne Bar - Recommended by our Dutch friend, Mireille, this was the perfect way to settle in to Amsterdam as soon as we had touched down and checked in to our hotel. We enjoyed late night wine flights and bitterballen in this smart little wine bar on the Prisengraacht, which is a fun, buzzy area at night. Service was helpful, friendly and knowledgeable - they picked out exactly the sort of wines we love from a long list of old and new world options. Great for sipping on excellent vino and basic snacks.
- Cafe Hoppe - One of the oldest bars in Amsterdam, this rickety and rammed, traditional Dutch cafe (pub) was founded in 1670. It has a rowdy late night crowd - perfect for topping up with some traditional, malty Dutch gin or Belgian beers.
- On Saturday morning, check out the Noordermarkt (the flea market and farmers market), disgust your boyfriend with all the furry, leopard skin patterned berets you want to buy there, then...
- Take a rest at Cafe Winkel for some mint tea and a huge, mountainous chunk of the sweet appeltaart for which they seem to have gathered some fame.
- Wander around De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) a 3 by 3 grid of small streets laden with vintage and fashion stores, boutiques, cafes, pubs, bars and trendy restaurants. Take a break for some smoked herring and a beer at one of the local pubs.
- Envy - From the same owners as Vyne Bar, comes Envy (the names are anagrams of each other) - a restaurant which has just been awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2011 Michelin Guide. We had an excellent lunch, with gorgeous wines on our last day in Amsterdam. There's a great charcuterie and cheese selection, or go for delicacies like tuna with lime, garlic shoots and cream of lettuce hearts or Black Angus blade with fried sweetbread, beetroot and morel sauce. A la carte prices are reasonable (or there are tasting menus ranging from €45 - €59.50 per person) and the setting is relaxed. There's an open kitchen and the long narrow room is lined with tables, banquettes and high seating overlooking fridges stocked with attractive, fresh produce.
- Find a good rijsttafel (rice table) - a traditional Dutch/Indonesian feast of around 25 little dishes of meats, seafood, vegetables, curries, sauces etc all placed on your table at once. We went to Sama Sebo near the Rijksmuseum, which was cheap, fun and busy (€29.50 per person), but I reckon you could do better in terms of quality with a bit of research.
- The best coffee we had was at a store selling swanky mens bags/accessories in the Nine Streets area - Property Of..... When the friendly shop guy saw us admiring the Stumptown coffee machine, he made us one and sat chatting away with us at the bar while we sipped. And it was free. (The bags are not).
- I haven't gone on about all the tourist sites in the guide books but you have to go to the Rijksmuseum to soak up some Dutch art. I've been before, but here's a tip (and the reason we didn't make it this time) - don't leave it until Sunday (like everyone else does) when the queues trail off for miles. Same applies to the excellent Van Gogh Museum.
|Delicious prawn salad at Envy|
We stayed at Citizen M, Amsterdam City, which was an ultra modern, very cool hotel on the fringes of the city. It's not one to stay in if you need privacy in the bathroom and our room was tiny, but it had a power rain shower, free WiFi, a large bed, a touch screen MoodPad which controlled the flat screen TV, music, blinds, etc. There's also a 24 hour cafe downstairs and a funky reception/lounge area. The only downside is that it's a 10 minute tram ride to where you want to be (in the city centre area). But excellent value at around €105 per night at the time we booked.
|Rijstaffel at Sama Sebo|
We flew to Amsterdam with KLM which took less than 1 hour 20 minutes, but you can also take the Eurostar - which takes around 5 hours.